Today the Hawaii Senate cast the final vote needed to advance the marriage bill to the desk of the governor, who will sign in the next day or two, sealing Hawaii’s position as the 16th state with the freedom to marry. This brings to a close an intense two-and-a-half week special session, which included the longest hearing in Hawaii’s legislative history (over 55 hours of testimony were heard by the House Judiciary and Finance Committees). And this is the culmination of a more than 20-year journey, which began in 1990 when three couples filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality. While the lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, Ninia Baehr, now lives in Montana (where she is the deputy director of the ACLU of Montana, continuing her work for LGBT rights), today’s historic vote will have a deep impact on couples across the state of Hawaii, a few of whom have shared their stories here.
The effort to secure passage of the marriage bill in Hawaii this year was an example of the ACLU at its best. On the ground level, the ACLU of Hawaii deployed its full staff to be at the forefront of an intensely local operation – a critical element in winning the support of key lawmakers – brokering delicate political negotiations and shepherding the bill from its initial introduction in January to successful passage in this fall special session. The ACLU brought to bear its longstanding relationships both inside the capitol and throughout the diverse, and often far-flung, communities of Hawaii’s islands. We facilitated a series of community meetings to engage local activists across the state in Hawaii United for Marriage, the unified campaign created together with our local and national coalition partners. We gathered endorsements from hundreds of elected officials, faith leaders, businesses, labor unions, and community organizations. Our lobbyists served as key strategists working with the bill’s sponsors and legislative leadership, and as the coalition’s lead advisors in the heated debate about acceptable religious exemptions in the bill. Employing the expertise of the ACLU’s LGBT Project, a national leader in the ongoing fight against discrimination under the guise of religion, our local lobbyists were able to negotiate bill language that both protects the liberty of religious institutions and clergy, and ensures that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination.
Under the banner of Out for Freedom, the ACLU is creating an agile campaign structure to integrate and amplify our marriage equality work. In Hawaii, we drew heavily on our experience in numerous other state marriage campaigns, and leveraged the legal expertise, communications platforms, and myriad other resources of the national ACLU. With the campaign fund that we’ve been developing at the national level, we were able to provide a steady stream of financial support for a robust local campaign, which included a team of lobbyists working alongside our own, communications consultants, and a grassroots field team that engaged thousands of local supporters in contacting their legislators. We were also able to pivot quickly when an opposition ad campaign emerged in the final weeks leading into special session – we conducted polling on the impact of the opposition message and how best to neutralize it, produced and aired our own ads featuring local voices, and deepened Hawaii United’s grassroots field program to ensure that legislators continued to hear a steady drumbeat of support for marriage.
For years, the ACLU has been a leader in the legal and political fight for LGBT rights. The ambitious Out for Freedom campaign that we launched in June is leveraging those decades of experience in the courts, state houses, local communities, and at the ballot box and pairing it with unprecedented resources so that we can operate nimbly and aggressively to push the ball forward in this rapidly evolving landscape.
Hawaii is likely the last legislative victory we will see on marriage for some time, as most of the remaining states have marriage bans written into their constitutions, which cannot be undone by legislative action alone. The fight largely moves to the courts and ballot boxes now, and the ACLU will continue to be a leader in this next phase. We are awaiting a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in our case, Griego v. Oliver, and preparing to defend against any anti-marriage efforts in the state’s legislature; serving on the executive committee of Oregon United for Marriage, pushing a 2014 pro-marriage ballot initiative; working with partners to build towards potential ballot initiatives in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and Ohio in 2016; and pursuing federal marriage cases in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia in order to build a solid legal record by the next time the Supreme Court takes up the question of the constitutionality of state laws that exclude same-sex couples from marriage.
Stay tuned for developments on all of those fronts.
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